Travelling around the 2000 km of roads that crisscross Flinders Shire to attend events and catch up with people of the area is one of the things Jane McNamara most enjoys about being the Flinders Shire mayor.
Jane is a born and bred third generation North West Queenslander from Hughenden. She and her husband Brendan run ‘Abbotsford’, a 14,000-hectare sheep and cattle property that has been in Jane’s family since 1912.
“I’ve had many roles that prepared me for being mayor: grazier, carpenter’s apprentice, wife, mother of two grown daughters, home tutor and jack of all trades when my mother and I ran the property for six years on our own,” she said.
“I have a love of machinery, in particular big yellow vehicles that move dirt.”
The Shire’s main township, Hughenden, sits at the crossroads of the Flinders Highway and the Kennedy Development Road, with the small townships of Stamford, Prairie and Torrens Creek scattered across 42,000 square km. This very diverse and sparsely populated area has been hit hard in recent years by both flood and drought.
“Before the 2019 flood, we had drought for several years,” she said.
“The drought was very slow, insidious, and it just kept creeping up on you. People had kept their stock alive, and then over one week during the flood many lost most or all of them.”
Jane recalls at the time seeing how tired people were, and fragile.
“Nature is a fickle beast, but we deal with what we’re dealt,” she said.
“I was encouraging people to ring their mates to ask if they’re OK and how they’re coping. It really mattered to them that people cared.”
While the northern part of the Shire was under water, the southern third remained in unrelenting drought. This unique situation gave Jane the opportunity to travel to Canberra for a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to share her community’s dire situation.
“I was able to give him a firsthand update of the situation in my shire and the neighbouring shires, and I think that helped consolidate the Government’s support.”
“Producers were up to their knees in mud, slush and dead animals – some had lost their homes. The speed of getting the $75,000 grants to them was probably the number one thing that helped. The ease and level of support from the federal Government really gave us all hope. And their ongoing support since then has been amazing.”
Jane also had a timely meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack soon afterwards.
“I met with him when he visited Hughenden a short time later to explain our need for weather radars. There were no Doppler radars in the area that we could use with any accuracy. They’re not going to stop it raining but at least we could have warning as to how much is on the way."
“Mr McCormack found $9 million for two of them, and I was pretty grateful for that. I think that’s one of the better contributions I’ve been able to make, not just for the Shire but for the region.”
Such successful lobbying and long history of community service runs in Jane’s family.
“One of my favourite activities is meeting with and lobbying parliamentarians and government officials and staff,” she said.
“My mantra is to treat everyone with the same respect and understanding by which I would like to be treated, and the odd hug goes a long way.”
“I was first declared an elected councillor to Flinders Shire Council on 1 April 2016 (in the morning). My family had been involved in local government since 1952, my father, mother and husband all held the position of Shire Chairman, first female councillor and mayor respectively. Personally, I wanted to achieve some economic diversification projects and I felt that I had a lot to offer the shire and North West Queensland.”
Jane leads a long list of Council construction projects. She is a very proud North Queenslander, and works passionately for her community, Shire, Region and the State of Queensland.
In October 2020 the Australian Government released After the flood: A strategy for long-term recovery. The Strategy was developed by the National Drought and Flood Agency, with and for communities affected by the 2019 North Queensland flood event. This blueprint for the region’s future can be used by anyone with a stake in its long-term prosperity. You can read more about it here.